16th Jun 2019

Italy presses for Nato command of Libya war

  • Italy's southern island of Lampedusa is closer to Tripoli than Rome (Photo: Valentina Pop)

Wary of immigrants fleeing Libya and potential retaliation from Gaddafi, Italy is calling on its allies to bring the airstrikes under Nato command or else it will withdraw authorisation for the use of its military bases in the enforcement of the no-fly zone.

"We want Nato to take control over the operation ... We have given permission for our bases to be used and would not like to bear the political responsibility for things done by others, without our control," foreign minister Franco Frattini said during a press conference in Brussels on Monday (21 March), after a meeting with foreign ministers.

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In Turin, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi also insisted it was "important that the command passes to Nato with a different coordination structure than what we have now."

Neither Germany nor Turkey are in favour of Nato's involvement in the mission. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has been the first to call for strikes and who organised the "Paris summit" to lay out the operation among allies, is also unwilling to have the military alliance take over control.

A special cabinet meeting in Rome dedicated to Italy's involvement in Operation Odyssey Dawn underscored the fact that the country is not going to drop any bombs on its former colony, but only use jets for surveillance purposes.

Interior minister Roberto Maroni warned of influxes of "clandestine" migrants, stressing that a first boat had arrived to Sicily with around 200 on board. Authorities later said they were actually Egyptians, not Libyans as they claimed. Maroni's party, the anti-immigrant Lega del Nord, had already called for Italy's participation in the war to be linked to allies "blocking" any departures of migrants from Libya.

On the southern Italian island of Lampedusa, closer to Tripoli and Tunis than Rome, locals are wary about the country's participation in the military mission against Libya's dictator Moammar Gaddafi.

The prospect of refugees from Libya "is a definite risk", says the mayor of Lampedusa, Bernardino de Rubeis, as Tunisian migrants arriving by boat outnumbered the regular inhabitants on the island.

"So far we haven't seen an awful lot of help from the EU, other than the intelligence from the Frontex mission which has only a few people and assets," he told this website.

"We want that Europe answers the call for help that Lampedusa and Italy are putting out."

The other risk, that Gaddafi strikes back at Italy for its involvement in the mission, would be a deja vu for some Lampedusans. In 1986, when a Nato base was on the island, Gaddafi shot two missiles towards Lampedusa, missing it only by a few miles.

De Rubeis played down the risk of this happening however. "We have men and means here in Italy who at least can guarantee us the security," he said.

But this was met with scepticism by locals. Lorenzo Costa, a music history teacher from Genoa who spends half the year on and around the island sailing said: "I am a little afraid. Gaddafi is a very strange fellow. Perhaps not necessarily Lampedusa, but there is a danger."

Meanwhile, Russia, India and China have urged the alliance to immediately stop military strikes. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said the UN resolution endorsing a no-fly zone was a "medieval call to crusade."

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov also said his troops will not take part in the "adventure" against Libya because it is motivated by oil concerns. "Oil and the future exploitation of Libyan oil are the main motives driving this operation," he said in Sofia, according to AFP.


The EUobserver's Valentina Pop talks to the mayor of Lampedusa Bernardino de Rubeis about the impact of the Libyan war on his island.

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